These days, “families” are no longer exclusively a father, mother and
kids. A “family” is any two or more people living together with love
and support, finding their way through life together. When there are two
partnered adults, that’s a couple.
But if there is at least one adult and one child, the task is to
lovingly support the child(ren) through growth, learning, acquiring
self-discipline and self-discovery. There might be one parent with (a)
child(ren), divorced parents sharing custody, kids raised by two mothers
or two fathers, by other family members, blended families or foster
Despite the fact that the goals for getting kids from infancy to
adulthood are remarkably similar for everyone, every family gets there
in their own fashion.
In some families it works relatively smoothly, and children go
through the predictable stages fairly easily. By the time kids become
teens, most families will have experienced at least a few times when
adults and kids feel at odds with each other—usually transitional
periods when everyone has to rework how they understand being together.
But sometimes things get stuck, and there is tension, anger or suffering
rather than the expected progressions.
These are the occasions when parents become anxious, wondering what
to do, and kids feel a lack of certainty as well. Parents might withdraw
out of frustration, and consequently the kids miss their usual
restraints, and even more challenging situations develop. It’s very easy
to get stuck in escalating cycles of anger, yelling, rebellion, and
feelings of desperation.
These are delicate times—when teens still want parents to be there,
but due to their need to achieve independence, will fight off parental
efforts to guide them. Also parents may become discouraged or angry when
kids start digging in their heels, and stand-offs or power struggles
Even in families with the best of intentions, misunderstandings among
different generations happen easily, and can escalate with kids
becoming angry, sullen or misbehaving, and frustrated parents who don’t
always know how to change what is happening. If the struggles are
quickly worked through, families usually make out ok. But if they become
long-standing, and negative attitudes toward each other become the norm
rather than an occasional position, people feel chronically angry or
Kids are less likely to talk about their feelings than to behave in
ways that will grab attention. Sometimes the parents have tried
everything they can, but not knowing how to guide their children through
rough patches despite their best efforts, just give up and hope the
kids will turn out ok in the long run.
Optimally, these times of opposition and misunderstandings can be
growth experiences. Kids have to learn how to eventually get along with
all sorts of people, and parents are, after all, people.
But some situations have become so entrenched that the value of
working through the tough times gets missed because there is so much
suffering. This is when family psychotherapy can be helpful. If you feel
your family might be helped in this way, make an appointment for an
evaluation where you can discuss your needs and goals.
Kathi Whitten copyright 2009